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Study shows change in MLB roster dynamics

05/14/2013 9:34 AM ET
By Matt Hughes

Rachel Robinson, the widow of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, is honored by the Dodgers before a game this April.(AP)
A new study partly attributes the declining participation of African-American players in Major League Baseball to changing roster dynamics.

The Society for American Baseball Research concluded that as rosters have changed to include more pitchers, African-American players who typically play in the field -- the outfield in particular -- have seen potential roster spots become more elusive.

A 25-man roster traditionally consisted of 39-44 percent pitchers through the 1970s. But in recent years, as five-man rotations and specialists out of the bullpen have become the norm, pitchers now occupy over 50 percent of the roster.

For unknown reasons, African-American players have tended to play in the field since 1947 when Jackie Robinson broke into MLB as the first African-American player. From 1967-1999, African-American players made up over 40 percent of Major League outfielders before declining to around 30 percent recently. Conversely, only 5 percent of Major League pitchers are African-American -- a relative constant since the mid 1950s.

African-American participation in MLB was consistently between 16 and 19 percent from 1972-1996 but on Opening Day in April, only 8.5 percent of the Major League rosters were African-American. MLB recently commissioned a study to determine the root causes of the decline in participation by African-American players.

The SABR study also includes data on Latino participation in MLB which has doubled since the 1980s. Currently, 26.9 percent of MLB rosters are Latino, including roughly the same percentage of pitchers.

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